China admonished comments made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the 30th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protest, saying Tuesday the top U.S. diplomat spoke "out of prejudice and arrogance."
Pompeo had issued a statement Monday on the eve of the crackdown saluting what he called the "heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up thirty years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights."
The seven-week-long Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and their bloody end, where hundreds if not thousands of people are believed to have died, snuffed out a tentative shift toward political liberalization. Pompeo urged China to make a full, public accounting of those killed but admitted the country has not become more transparent in the decades since.
"Over the decades that followed, the United States hoped that China's integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society," Pompeo said. "Those hopes have been dashed."
In a statement posted on the Chinese Embassy's website in Washington, a spokesperson said Pompeo's statement "grossly intervenes in China's internal affairs, attacks its system, and smears its domestic and foreign policies."
"This is an affront to the Chinese people and a serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations," the statement read. "The Chinese side expresses its strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to it."
China claimed that the government and people "reached the verdict on the political incident of the late 1980s long ago," and has since enacted reform that has led to "rapid economic and social development, continuous progress in democracy and the rule of law, flourishing culture and significantly improved standards of living."
"China's human rights are in the best period ever," the statement continued. "Socialism with Chinese characteristics, a choice of history and the people, has been proved a right path in line with China's national conditions and supported by the whole population."
In his statement on Monday, Pompeo had praised the student-led democracy protests as having the courage to serve as "an inspiration to future generations calling for freedom and democracy around the world."
But Chinese officials fired back with their most loaded language.
"The Chinese people have the best say on China," a spokesperson said. "Their pursuit of a better life cannot be stopped by any force. Whoever attempt to patronize and bully the Chinese people in any name, or preach a 'clash of civilizations' to resist the trend of times will never succeed. They will only end up in the ash heap of history."
The back-and-forth between the two nations came as China went into customary lockdown Tuesday for the 30th anniversary of the bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Extra checkpoints and street closures greeted tourists who showed up before 5 a.m. to watch the daily flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square, while people overseas found themselves blocked from posting anything to a popular Chinese social media site.
China has largely succeeded in wiping the bloody crackdown from the public consciousness at home. For many Chinese, the 30th anniversary of the crackdown passed like any other weekday. Any commemoration of the event is not allowed in mainland China, and the government has long blocked access to information about it on the internet.
A male tourist in his 30s near the square, who gave his family name as Zhang, told Reuters he had no idea about the anniversary.
“Never heard of it,” he said. “I’m not aware of this.”
Thousands of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong gathered Tuesday night, the only region under Beijing's jurisdiction that holds significant public commemorations of the 1989 crackdown and memorials for its victims. Hong Kong has a degree of freedom not seen on the mainland as a legacy of British rule that ended in 1997.
The annual vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park near the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district appeared to draw tens of thousands of participants who filled several football fields and held candles in the sultry night air. Estimates of the number of vigil participants varied widely, with police putting the figure at 37,000 and organizers at 180,000.
Following an introduction of songs in the city's Cantonese dialect and traditional string music, a minute of silence was held for the Tiananmen crackdown victims.
"By being here, I'm standing for truth and justice, even though I've no hope the Chinese central government will ever do justice to the protesters," participant Stanley Lui told the Associated Press.
Beijing transplant Jay Jiang, 16, said unlike many on the mainland, she knew about the crackdown even as a young child. The 10th grader was taking part in the Hong Kong vigil for the first time.
"The bottom line is the government should not deceive the people about what happened," said Jiang, beads of sweat dotting her cheeks.
Half a dozen activists could not be reached by phone or text on Tuesday, according to the AP. One who could, Beijing-based Hu Jia, told the news agency he had been taken by security agents to the northeastern coastal city of Qinghuangdao last week. Chinese authorities routinely take dissidents away on what are euphemistically called "vacations", or otherwise silence them during sensitive political times.
"This is a reflection of their fears, their terror, not ours," Hu said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.